The 2009 Oscars: A Slumdog Slam

Marissa Tarabocchia

Straight-to-DVD films typically don’t fare well with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 

Case in point: you certainly won’t see Jessica Simpson’s latest acting venture, “Private Valentine: Blonde and Dangerous,” moving from the Blockbuster shelf to the Oscar stage anytime soon.   

Nevertheless, a film originally slated for a straight-to-DVD release became quite the force to be reckoned with at the 2009 Academy Awards on Feb 22 in Los Angeles.   

Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” turned into the Cinderella story of the night, as the little film that could claimed the coveted golden statuettes for best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay, best cinematography, best sound mixing, best film editing, best original score and best original song (for “Jai Ho”).

When “Slumdog” was announced as the winner for Best Picture, the cast and crew flocked to the stage amidst a standing ovation by an audience of the industry’s best.

The joyous moment aptly reflected the overall feel-good quality of the ceremony. 

Host Hugh Jackman’s musical opening parodied several nominated films and ended with the vibrato-laden proclamation, “I am Wolverine!”

Right from the get-go, viewers were aware that this was an Oscar ceremony void of stuffiness and monotony. 

To increase viewership, the ceremony utilized brand new production elements, including a revamped script, supposedly secret performers and presenters (enter teen heartthrobs Zac Efron and Robert Pattinson), a short comedic film comprised of Seth Rogen and James Franco’s “Pineapple Express” characters and a new marketing strategy. 

Perhaps the most significant production change, however, was the new way in which the four acting awards were presented. 

The best actor, best actress, best supporting actor and best supporting actress awards were preceded by a montage of past winners. 

Five past winners (including Halle Berry, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert De Niro, Cuba Gooding Jr., Goldie Hawn, Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman, to name a few) presented a short speech on each nominee before the winner was announced. 

This new element added a personal touch to the ceremony, illustrating camaraderie among the most talented actors and actresses in the business often unseen by viewers. 

Beyond the production, the recipients of the awards truly exhibited that aforementioned feel-good element of the show, as well. 

After six past nominations, Kate Winslet finally won an Academy Award for her performance in “The Reader.”

Upon winning, Winslet admitted with a grin, “I’d be lying if I said I haven’t made a version of this speech before.

I think I was probably 8 years old and staring into the bathroom mirror, and this would have been a shampoo bottle. Well, it’s not a shampoo bottle now.”    

Best supporting actress winner Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) also inserted some humor into her acceptance speech, asking, “Has anybody ever fainted here? Because I might be the first one.”   

A moment of pure emotion occurred when Heath Ledger was honored posthumously with the best supporting actor award for his work as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” 

A speech from Ledger’s family brought tears to the eyes of the audience remembering the immense talent and presence of the late actor within the film community. 

Best actor winner Sean Penn (“Milk”) and best original screenplay winner Dustin Lance Black (also from “Milk”) urged the audience and viewers alike to consider the life conditions of gay Americans in acceptance speeches drenched with emotion and hope.   

Lighter notes permeated the ceremony, as well, including a presentation by funnyman Steve Martin and “Saturday Night Live” golden girl Tina Fey, Ben Stiller dressed up as a bearded Joaquin Phoenix and Anne Hathaway being swept from the audience into Hugh Jackman’s arms.